This weekend St Andrew’s Cathedral in Glasgow will be re-opened after the biggest renovation and redecoration in its 200-year history. Before it looked tatty; now it looks beautiful. The work cost £4.5 million.
In the 1970s the then Archbishop of Glasgow, Cardinal Thomas Winning, had plans drawn up to build a new cathedral, but decided to spend the money on social causes instead.
His successor, Archbishop Mario Conti, says a church should be “worthy of its purpose”. It serves the glory of God and so should be built and designed to reflect that.
Cardinal Basil Hume, the late Archbishop of Westminster, had a similar idea. He once wrote: “In the worship of God nothing but the best is ever good enough… God speaks to us through beauty, and beauty is the correct language to use when we speak to God.” Yet he did not spend much money on Westminster Cathedral.
Some may argue that the Catholic Church, or at least parts of it, has lost a sense of beauty in recent decades – beauty in its art, buildings and liturgy. In 2008 Pope Benedict XVI spoke of an “urgent need” to reconnect beauty, truth and goodness.
On the other hand, is it immoral to get carried away with beautiful things when so many basic human needs are left unmet? Many people would feel that diverting money from disaster relief or homeless charities, say, in order to decorate a building would be wrong.
So, is it important for churches to be beautiful? Or is an obsession with beauty immoral?